COLLECTION: Mechanical Arts & Arms

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"H" marked cavalry sabre

1778-1780
Origin: America, Virginia, Falmouth (hilt only)
Overall: 37 1/4"; Blade length: 32 7/16"; Hilt: 4 3/4"
Iron, steel, wood, and leather
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2010-41
Label:By 1778, there was an explosion of newly formed cavalry units fighting on both sides of the Revolutionary War. While the British and Loyalist light dragoons were largely armed with swords made by James Potter of New York City (see 2004-15), the Continental Army was left scrambling to equip their mounted troops with these necessary weapons. While it is known that Patriot units like "Light-Horse Harry" Lee's Legion and Francis Marion's Brigade preferred captured Potter swords, there weren't enough taken to entirely outfit the Continental Light Dragoons.

To fill the void, the Continental forces sought to have dragoon swords made, and turned to James Hunter of Rappahannock Forge in Falmouth, Virginia. Before the Virginia campaign of 1781, Hunter's works were amongst the only sizable arms-making operations out of the reach of British raiding parties. Thus, he was the natural choice for such production, and could certainly handle the various contracts for different sorts of arms needed for the cause.

Although we don't know when Hunter made his first dragoon swords, it is significant that a Potter sabre, taken from a dragoon of Tarleton's British Legion at Guilford Courthouse, was sent to him as a pattern in early 1781.

This example of Hunter's work incorporates a slotted "stirrup" shaped guard clearly copied from that made by Potter, and includes the integral ring at the terminus of the knucklebow, by which it is secured to the grip and the tang of the blade. Its spiral grip is covered with leather and bound with a single strand of iron wire in a manner also similar to Potter's grip. Hunter included a simple flat disc pommel instead of Potter's high domed version, however.

For this sword, Hunter mounted his hilt on a common three-fullered blade of European manufacture. Other "H" hilts are seen with American-made blades of inferior workmanship, and at least one has been noted mounted on a blade signed by Prahl of Philadelphia. While more research is needed to determine what blades were made by Hunter, it seems that he used whatever blades he could get his hands on at the time to fulfill his sword orders.

Hunter marked his hilts by striking an "H" into the outside of the knucklebow, near the bend where it transitions into the counterguard. Although Hunter’s shop copied Potter's pattern, he did not mimic the latter's quality. This hilt shows delaminating folds in the iron and a few poorly executed welds.

In addition the "H" on the knucklebow are the engraved marks "1 T P L D N 22," meaning this weapon was number 22 in the first troop of Pulaski's Light (or 'Legion' of) Dragoons. Another "H" sword, number 17 of Pulaski's 3rd troop, is in a private collection in Connecticut. This unit existed from 1778 until early 1780, when it was incorporated into Armand's Legion after Pulaski's death at Savannah the previous October. Adding credence to the interpretation of these marking are the identically-styled markings for both Pulaski's and Armand’s Legions found on some pistols made by Hunter, also for the Continental Light Dragoons.

As part of the armament of Pulaski's Legion, this sabre likely saw action at Savannah (1779) and the Siege of Charleston (1780). In addition to these, it may also have been used at Camden, Guilford Court House and the Siege of Yorktown after the unit was incorporated into Armand's Legion.
Mark(s):"H" (for Hunter) stamped into the outside of the knucklebow.
Inscription(s):"1 T P L D N 22" engraved on the knucklebow.